It's been more than 40 years since Team USA won a gold medal in men's hockey at the Olympics and as cherished as the Miracle on Ice is, the Americans would love to add gold to their trophy shelves. With that in mind, USA Hockey has announced Stan Bowman as GM of the 2022 team, with Bill Guerin as the assistant GM.
Bowman was six years old when the Miracle on Ice occurred and the Chicago Blackhawks GM has a distinct memory of watching those Olympics on TV, perched on his grandmother's lap. While that famous group of underdogs was made up of college players led by legendary coach Herb Brooks, the 2022 version of the men's squad will be all NHLers - many of whom are from the top echelon of the league's talent pool.
"Here we are 40 some-odd years later and we've seen the tremendous growth of our sport," Bowman said. "That's exciting for me to see and to be a part of."
While Bowman sees a great opportunity rather than pressure, there is no doubt that externally there will be a white-hot spotlight on Team USA.
This will be the first Olympics where marquee names such as Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Connor Hellebuyck, Quinn Hughes and Adam Fox (to name just a few) will be available to the Americans, while veteran Patrick Kane is still piling up points in the NHL. Hellebuyck is the only one from that group who did not cut his teeth with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and the success of the NTDP, particularly in the past 15 years, is something to shout about for the national program.
"You have to tip your cap to the way we've been able to take these players as teenagers and really do our best to work on their development, get them to the point where they can be elite NHL players," Bowman said. "Here we are today in 2021 and we've got American players all over the place doing special things every night. There's an incredible depth of impact players."
The challenge for Bowman and Guerin now will be fitting all those pieces together. Yes, the Americans have the best depth they've ever had, but that also means choices - and the wrong mix can doom a prospective gold-medal team. As someone who played in the Olympics himself, Guerin, the Minnesota Wild GM, knows all about the heightened atmosphere of the international tournament.
"I played in three and all three were different experiences," he said. "I can bring those individual experiences to the table in how players think and what they're going through. There definitely has to be a buy-in factor and the one tricky thing is that everybody who is going to be on this team is going to be a star on their NHL team and you have to assume roles. It's our job and the coach's job to keep everybody happy and make sure there is great buy-in."
That's something the archrival Canadians have been very good at in recent years and once again, Team Canada will be the favorite in China - boasting options such as Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon up front, not to mention unparalleled depth everywhere (except in net - which will undoubtedly be a storyline in Canada from here on out).
But the Americans can't get caught up in building an anti-Canada squad, because that's how you lose the plot and end up spilling against Finland or Sweden. Bowman and Guerin simply have to put together the best roster possible.
According to USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher, the team is hoping to hold an orientation camp in the summer, with a roster named around Jan. 1. Bowman said there's no rush on the coach, but it goes without saying that will be another big news story.
Team USA has its braintrust, now it's time to build.